By: Jasmine Henry | Mar 19th 2012
Welcome to Cafe World! The colours are bright, the food is tasty and the staff are trained and ready to go.
Mega social game publisher Zyngas cafe managerial sim takes the dining industry, hits it with a shrink ray and turns it into simplified gem of food prep, decor decisions and directing employees who look eerily similar to your list of Facebook friends.
With Cafe World, Zynga are trying to monopolise on the two things that the average person loves the most food and friends. The social aspects go hand in hand with the gameplay and the two are as symbiotic as the chicken to the egg in that one question that has everyone baffled.
The Zynga dog (their logo) and the casual Facebook gaming powers that be have gifted you with your own plot of land, pre-built, ready made restaurant to boot. You are free to give it a lick of paint, a fresh new look and a brand spanking new name to suit the fine dining experience that (hopefully) tons of virtual NPCs will flock to to enjoy the delights of the '7 pound burrito and other digestive marvels.
Your aim, as the newest owner of your very own eating emporium, is to satisfy the punters with your culinary skills (see : ability to cook and serve the meal before it congeals on the in-game stove) and your chosen array of seats, chairs, posters and floor tiles. Bear in mind that as long as theres enough room for customers to be seated and theres enough food to fill their bellies, they will provide you with coinage. Yes, glorious gold coins, AKA, the important bit.
Besides the strength of your relationships with your Facebook friends list (whom youll need to improve your food, in-game bank balance and cooking utensils), Cafe World also uses coins. Of both the real earned-from-a-real-life-9-to-5-day-job and the virtual damn-I-cant-use-you-to-pay-off-my-mortgage kind. The former can be used to bolster your cafe managing efforts, using your real coinpurse contents to buy in-game dollars, which in turn are used to purchase extra food unlocks (to beef up your menu), tables and chairs to give a stylistic sheen to your decorum and upgraded cookers and repairs for when the income from NPC food sales just isnt enough. Its for this reason that Cafe World is free to play, this money is what keeps Zynga and the game- going, providing you with contstant updates, of which there have been dozens over the few years since the game launched (in Sept. 2009). I chose to keep my wallet wired firmly shut, the incentives for forking out your cash just dont seem worth it. This brings me to the former, the free in-game gold that you get from providing seats and getting people to fill them, accompanied by freshly made plates of your food the benefits of this are few and far between, getting money this way is a hard graft, but it exists as a mechanic to serve those of us who either dont have the money, or are just plain frugal, like myself. It also exists to fuel your Cafe World addiction and is massively successful, to say the least.
Another aspect that only aids Cafe Worlds huge popularity rating amongst the Facebook masses is that CW is effectively 3 games in one. Much in the same way that the oft-lamented TV spin-off comes about, Cafe World tucks you under its wing and introduces you to the (unofficial names made up by me) Untitled mini-game #1, #2 and #3, because, you see, Cafe World turns the average casual player into a die-hard by bringing in the oldest gameplay mechanic in the book. Levelling up. First you have your overall level, this is just general bragging rights stuff Im a level 13 Master Mess Sergeant, an esteemed level that I have reached by serving happy customers and visiting my peers for extra coin bonuses. No, unfortunately, and I really do regret to tell you this, you cant use your Cafe World level to improve your CV, but its what gives CW its competitive edge and so is welcomed with open arms nonetheless.
-Mini-game #2 is that even the individual dishes that you are tasked with producing come with their own, individual levels. Theres a set amount of servings that you have to prepare, for example, the bacon cheeseburger takes 50 preps to level up to level 2, which, at 5 minutes a pop, is easy. The issue comes when prepping larger, more extravagant dishes such as the homestyle potroast which will hoover up 2 days in real time, but again its one of the most endearing parts of the game and what keeps you coming back for more.
-The final nail in the free-time coffin are the sidequests. While nowhere near as detrimental to your social life as the giant console RPG that is Skyrim, for example, its these extra missions that separate the boys (other casual games) from the men (the Cafe World collective). Zyngas inclusion of these quests is genius, you dont want to leave the game for even a second because youre too busy keeping a look out for the NPC that could help you source the final piece of your pizza oven, so that you can bake the perfect slice of pizza, win over Chef Piero and prove to all of your customers that your restaurant is officially the greatest! Over the top? Yes, but they're more than enough to keep even the most casual of players intrigued long enough to complete them and move on to the next casual gaming fad, be it Temple Run, Draw Something, or, most likely, the latest Zynga Facebook game.
Perhaps saying this will get me run out of town for missing the point, but my biggest issue with Cafe World, as a keen casual gamer, is the limitations that are put on you. Yes, there are a ton of things to do and yes, these things are all a great deal of fun, but (and thats a really big *but*), its very difficult to expand your horizons, as it were, without a team of dedicated Cafe World players to help you out or if you have a disposal income out the wazoo. At the very least, youll need 5 devoted CW players on your friends list in order to really prosper. If, like me, you have neither a group of hardcore casual game players or a bank balance that youre willing to invest into a freemium Facebook game, then you will feel let down. With casual games, the point is that the sky is the limit, you can play and enjoy these sorts of games by yourself, for a lengthy amount of time because the gameplay mechanics are simpe and relatively unchanging and its a ridiculous amount of fun. While I am enjoying my barebones free-to-play Cafe World experience, I know that there is more out there and it feels as though Im being unfairly ostracised as a player as I dont have any resources (friends, money) to share. For Zynga, its as simple as offering up more to the free players, giving us a little taste of the good life, that would be more than enough to keep us infatuated and dedicated to Cafe World forever.
Free-to-play or freemium, you can easily sink an entire hour into this game (or, as I discovered recently, an entire afternoon) without realising that youve spent so much time cooking for the adorably bug-eyed Cafe World NPCs that youve neglected to tend to your own, ravenous hunger pains. At its simplest it is a strange hybrid of gameplay mechanics that should be incredibly tedious but really arent. With a better experience for free players, Cafe World would be awarded an 8, but with cute graphics, a well-thought out selection of gameplay mechanics and an addictive aspect Ive not witnessed before in any social Facebook game, Cafe World gets a solid 7.Click here